A young Islamic woman converts to Christianity, alienating her family and effectively banishing herself from the community she has grown up in. She approaches her parish priest, expressing her desire to become a Catholic nun and requesting the required certificates. The price for certification was incomprehensibly high: rape. When she finds herself pregnant, the young girl approaches the bishop, telling him that the priest raped her in exchange for the documents she needed to become a nun. The priest was ordered to “go on a two-week retreat.”
This is just one of the stories of sexual exploitation reported by nuns in 23 countries around the world, mostly concentrated in Africa, where the AIDS epidemic has made nuns and young girls victims of men (including priests and bishops) seeking “safe” women for sex, according to an article in the March 16 issue of the National Catholic Reporter. The Catholic Church is denying these allegations.
Nuns have not been silent on this horrific treatment, despite what one sister calls a “conspiracy of silence” in the Catholic church. The reports of rape, impregnation, forced abortion, and a double standard that punished the nuns involved but allowed the priests to continue serving in their communities have been discussed in councils of religious men and women worldwide, including at the Vatican. Sr. Maura O’Donohue, physician and former AIDS coordinator for the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, is just one of two nuns, two priests, and one bishop who have written or spoken about the problem. Sr. O’Donohue says that, while nuns have appealed to congregational authorities in many countries, church authorities have offered little response. Despite documentation that prominent church officials – even within the Vatican – have been aware of the problem since as early as 1995, the Catholic church is denying the allegations of sexual exploitation.
Sources: National Catholic Reporter March 16, 2001, Vol. 37 No. 20; Personal Memo from Sr. Maura O’Donohue MMM: Meeting at SRC, Rome. February 18, 1995; “The Problem of the Sexual Abuse of African Religious in Africa and in Rome” Marie McDonald, MSOLA, Paper for the Council of ‘16’ November 20, 1998; “Theological Challenges Posed by the Global Pandemic of HIV/AIDS” A reflection by Rev. Robert J. Vitillo, Carias Ineternationalois, with the Theological Study Group on HIV/AIDS, Boston College. March 23, 1994